Sunday, January 25, 2009 - Afi Mountains - added by Roxy

Within 2 hours of crossing the border we'd been stopped at least 6 times! The majority were legitimate police and military checks, but several were by self-appointed police, commonly known as sticker boys! From what we can gather, the sticker boys are pretty much the same as you and I deciding to make our own road block. All that is required is that you find a pole, put lots of nails into it and then throw it under people's car tyres as they try drive past you, forcing them to stop. You need at least 15 mates to work with you for the sake of intimidating the driver and passengers, and then demand 'tax'. Bob's your uncle, you earn a fortune! On day one in Nigeria we were lucky, each time we were stopped we were asked endless questions about what we were doing in Nigeria, but were able to escape without vast "tax" payments. We did enjoy that fact that when they found out that we are South African, they shook their heads and commented on how crazy and dangerous South Africa is! Clearly they haven't heard about the reputation Nigeria has outside their country!

Day two of Nigeria got off to a bad start - we were stopped early by sticker boys, demanding vast tax payments! We managed to get through the first lot after a brief fight. The trick is to drive straight for the person holding the stick with nails and hope he'll have the sense to drop the stick and save himself from being driven over! The second lot though were another story altogether, they got us! I'll cut a pretty long story short, but that gist of it is that we were stopped by a group of guys that were demanding that we pay more than a $100 for a TV licence and sanitation tax! Locals are expected to pay these taxes, tourists are not. Especially since we were only trying to pass through that particular state, we had no plans to use any of their facilities and don't have a TV! We tried to reason with them for about an hour, but to no avail. We then suggested we go to the police to try resolve the issue. Of course that suggestion was met by violent protest from the thugs. After an age of arguing back and forth the guy who was managing the pole with the spikes had lost interest in us, allowing us to take the opportunity to jump into the truck and bolt. He was a tad too late in reacting, but not after the only way to evade the spikes was for Steve to drive off the road and crash through the bush, bouncing over various holes and rocks hidden in the undergrowth! Eventually the spiked-stick-minder dived into the bush and Steve managed to get back onto the road and beat a hasty getaway! It was a horrible experience, and the only reason that we were able to get away was because the group was unarmed. The whole experience gives new meaning to the term daylight robbery!

Those first two days gave us a terrible impression of Nigeria, but the next 2 weeks in Nigeria were great, and so served to balance our view of the country a bit. The Nigerians that we met after day two were brash and bold, as expected, but they were also very clever, humorous and generally a bit crazy... in a good way! A distinctive thing about the people is that instead of saying "hello" to people, they say "you're welcome", which we liked. Another thing they also do is shout out "Uyibo", which means "White-man!" in the local language, every time they saw us. Not knowing this word upon arrival, Steve heard it as "Where you go?", and thought everyone was overly helpful in getting us to our destination! He would always answer "Abuja" which left everyone puzzled as to this bizarre response to "White-man!"

On day 3 in Nigeria we made it to Abuja (the capital city) where we were to be based for a while whilst attempting to secure visas for Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola. Abuja was only established 30 years ago to serve as the capital, so is a well-planned and pleasant city. We suspect that Lagos had such a bad reputation for crime and awful traffic that the Nigerians decided to start again with Abuja! The traffic in Abuja can still be a problem though, primarily because the people drive like maniacs. More often than not, a 3-lane road will have 5-lanes of traffic because people are trying to push in front of one another, only serving to slow things down. They also confuse all foreigners at junctions by putting their hazards on to indicate that they are going straight! We even saw people driving the wrong way down a 3-lane freeway, and a guy driving with his head out the window because he'd had such a huge accident that he could neither fit his head beneath the crumpled roof nor see through the windscreen, which was destroyed and completely covered by the roof! It was mind-blowing! When an accident occurs, which is frequent, everyone jumps out of their cars and argues, while their damaged cars stay in the middle of the road causing ridiculous traffic jams. A final unique feature of Abuja roads is that there are traffic lights at every junction. However, since the electricity hardly ever works, these tend to serve more as an artistic feature than anything useful! As such, each junction has a traffic cop who directs the traffic, a job which is carried out with true Nigerian creativity, in that loads of the cops dance whilst expertly directing the traffic. Our favourite was an old guy, who wore white gloves and big sunglasses and danced exactly like Michael Jackson! Watching the guy doing the moonwalk and spinning around whilst directing the traffic was hilarious!

Sorting the visas out was a pain which took ages. We owe a massive thanks to the guys at the South African embassy in Abuja for going out of their way to help us out. They gave us letters of introduction to use at the embassies, gave us a driver and car, and listened to us as we complained about being slowly strangled by African bureaucracy. In particular, the Angolan embassy gave us serious problems. On one day, for example, we arrived at the Angolan embassy and they told Steve to go and change his trousers because he was 'half dressed' in his 3/4 length trousers. He obliged. Then when we went back to the embassy it was 9:27am and the embassy opened at 09:30am, so we were told to wait. At 09:30am, all the people waiting outside the embassy were given sign-in forms to fill in at the gate. We had to wait for everyone to complete the forms before being allowed in, one at a time! Once in the embassy building we were allocated numbers in accordance to the order in which we'd arrived. Some guy has the specific job of making sure that we all sat crunched up on one side of the waiting room, in the order of the numbers that we'd been given. We did point out that since we already had numbers, perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to dictate where we sat. We were suitably bollocked for questioning his authority. Then he told Steve and I to take our sunglasses off the top of our heads because we were breaking one of the many rules that they'd wasted their time creating! Having the sunglasses hooked in our shirt-collar was ok though! To add insult to injury, when we finally got our visas, after paying US$100 each for a dual entry visa, we received single-entry visas, which we knew would cause us problems down the line. Arguing that we'd paid for a dual-entry visa was fruitless. What an outrageous power trip the Angolans were on, it was enough to make me not want to visit the country at all.

Things weren't all bad though. Whilst in Abuja we met some fantastic people which turned our stay from being truly horrendous to something really memorable and enjoyable. The first couple we met were Bruce and Eliza Spain. Steve's sister Trish is great friends with Bruce's sister, and with that tenuous connection they invited us to stay on their stunning farm whilst in the Abuja area. They're a young Zimbabwean couple who are building a Kasava processing factory, taking advantage of the lack of infrastructure and wealth of opportunity that Nigeria has to offer. Naturally they are also wrestling with the outrageous challenges that come with trying to run a business in that crazy country. Guys, we hope your factory is up and running by now, and wish you everything of the best!! Steve and I absolutely loved our time on their farm, eating meat for the first time in ages (very important for South Africans!), learning how to make chutney and biltong, and especially having sundowners in the river bed.

When we weren't on the farm, which is 2 hours outside of Abuja, we stayed with a young South African couple, Chris Morgan and Gill Rogers. They're friends of Bruce and Eliza's, and without knowing us from Adam, invited us to stay at their pad. Again, we're very grateful. While staying with Chris and Gill we went to our first Nigerian nightclub, and oh, what a party it was! We had great fun, but left shortly after Steve did his break dancing/yoga moves (on his back) on the dancefloor! Too much brandy and redbull had been consumed! The other thing that we thoroughly enjoyed was going bike riding in Abuja. Chris took us to a bike trail on the outskirts of town. As you start off the ride, you're surrounded by city, but within 20 minutes you're in the middle of the bush going through traditional Fulani villages. The change of scenery is so extreme that it's wonderful!

One of the other tasks that we had whilst in Abuja was to purchase another GPS. Since our first one had been nicked in Ghana my navigational skills were becoming a risk to Steve's sanity! We'd met a guy named Homer in Benin who informed us he had a contact in the Abuja Geographical Information Service, Roland Klaus, who imported Garmin GPS units. So we went in search of Mr Klaus, to the point that we were virtually stalking the man. When we received a call telling us that Mr Klaus was currently in the air on a Lufthansa flight and would be in Abuja within 10 hours, we were thankful that our stalking had finally paid off! So the next morning we went to find Mr Klaus at his office. We had all our hard earned cash on our person, and were not looking forward to parting with it for a no-doubt vastly inflated price. On meeting Mr Klaus though, he surprised us by giving us a GPS for free, saying he would sponsor it for our trip!! Plus he gave us an AGIS cap and shirt each, and then sent us off for a wonderful Chinese lunch with some members of his team. Nigeria was indeed full of surprises!! Thanks so much to the whole AGIS team!

After 15 days in Abuja we finally left with most of our visas. Unfortunately the DRC twice refused our application because of the war in the country, so we would have to reapply further down the road. We then headed off to the stunning Afi Drill Ranch in the Afi Mountains. What a wonderful place - I highly recommend it. However, a word of caution, Songololo-size trucks cannot get into the ranch! We arrived at the main turn off to the Drill Ranch late in the afternoon. The first obstacle that we encountered was that there was an anti-logging barrier across the road. This is high enough to allow cars to pass but prevents logging trucks from getting through. So, never the type to quit, Steve and I set off on a wild-goose-chase to find the guy in the nearest village who had the key for the lock on the barrier. We eventually managed to locate him and he kindly opened the gate for us, assuring us that we'd have no problem on the road with our truck. So off we went, as quickly as possible because the sun was starting to set. Our first obstacle was low hanging electricity cables in the first village, but with the help of most of the village, we managed to get through that. About 20 minutes later we came across a tiny temporary wooden bridge across a river, erected while the main bridge which had been washed away was being rebuilt. One look at it and I started bleating that we would never get over. Steve, being the optimist (or perhaps a little crazy?) decided to give it a bash! First we had to add a few planks to increased the width of the bridge. With that done he edged his way over. As the wood started to crack loudly, I screamed at him to hurry before the bridge completely fell apart and he floored it, roaring over to the other side! We made it over, just! We drove for a while longer and finally saw the tiny sign for the Drill Ranch. As we turned into the road, we both knew that the truck was too big to get through the tiny windy track that wound through the thick forest up to the camp. We very stupidly carried on regardless, and after about 15 minutes in the dark we'd completely wedged the truck between 2 trees and could go neither forward nor back! We managed to extricate ourselves from between the trees, but were stuck, unable to go forward, nor turn around nor reverse down the tiny track in the dark. A couple of the guys who worked at the ranch found us, and were kind enough not to point out what fools we were! So it was our first night at the Drill Ranch was spent alone, stuck in the middle of the jungle, surrounded by a cacophony of jungle sounds and God knows what else!?

The next morning, after almost no sleep (for concern over how we'd ever get out of the place), we slowly reversed out of the jungle with the help of the guys who'd found us the previous evening. Now the only way out was back over the bridge! We worked for a while with some locals to reinforce the bridge and finally, with more cracking and a near nervous breakdown on my behalf, we got over the bridge and found safe parking for Songololo on the side of the road! We were now free to see the Drill Ranch, which was truly beautiful. Built right in the middle of the jungle, they have a large population of Drill monkeys, the most endangered primate on the planet. They are working to study, rehabilitate and eventually release them to the wild. There is also a stunning canopy-walkway which is suspended 30m off the jungle floor which is magnificent. It was a fantastic end to an undoubtedly interesting visit to Nigeria.

We left Nigeria that afternoon, but not before the border control guy said that I looked like an old Chinese man! Nigeria really was full of surprises!


1 .
To the old Chinese travellers! Oh my word - you guys crack me up! Loving the stories!
Trish - 20 Feb 2009, 7:29
2 .
In the boke photo you look so much like Tim Riley Stevie
Trish - 20 Feb 2009, 7:30

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